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608,343: Booming London area passes a population milestone

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On a growth tear, the wider London area has added the equivalent of a small city since 2021, fresh population estimates show.

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The booming London area’s population has crashed through the 600,000 mark, adding the equivalent of a small city since the last census three years ago.

New towers sprouting up, school boards struggling to keep up with demand for new schools, home prices up and apartments in tight supply — Londoners have seen many signs of the city’s rapid growth, and growing pains, in recent years.

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Now, there’s fresh population estimates out by Statistics Canada, the national number-cruncher, that underline just how fast the wider area is growing.

As of last July 1, the London census metropolitan area — that’s the city, St. Thomas, Strathroy-Caradoc and portions of Elgin and Middlesex counties — had an estimated population of 608,343, meaning more than 40,000 more people since the last census was done in 2021 and an updated estimate for that year came out.

Chalk up that growth to a variety of factors, many of them already familiar to Londoners, from an influx of newcomers from the Toronto area to an increase in the number of immigrants and international students drawn to the area.

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Don Kerr, a demographer and professor at King’s University College, called the growth “remarkable,” saying that the “phenomenally high” population growth is a national trend that has filtered throughout Ontario, particularly between 2021 and 2023.

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“In 2020 when the pandemic hit, population growth slowed quite a bit. Then in 2021, bang, goes through the roof again,” Kerr said. “It’s all being driven by international migration, nearly all of it.”

Mike Moffatt is an economist and assistant professor at Western University’s Ivey Business School who keeps close tabs on Ontario’s economic and growth trends.

The London area’s swelling population is the result of “a combination of the international student boom we’ve experienced over the past seven to eight years, largely coming from Fanshawe (College), and just a large number of families moving in, mostly from the (Greater Toronto Area),” said Moffatt, a senior director of the Smart Prosperity Institute, an economic think-tank.

Some of those trends especially took hold in the fallout of the pandemic, when more people — suddenly working from home, unchained from their offices — found themselves able to move without affecting their work. Many are still working from home, or under hybrid home and office arrangements.

In a series of posts on X, the former Twitter, Moffatt highlighted some of the demographic shifts reshaping Ontario — from a declining share of immigration to the province over the last 25 years for Toronto and Peel Region, to higher birthrates in some areas near London — Huron, Perth and Oxford counties — that rank among the top five in the province. Leaving the expensive housing market in the Toronto area, one of the nation’s costliest, is also a huge motivating factor for people on the move to places like London, he noted.

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“That is likely to continue, the GTA has such a housing shortage right now that you’re seeing this emigration all across Southwestern Ontario,” Moffatt said. “Some of that’s in the London area, but you’re seeing it in Woodstock, in Brantford, other communities as well.”

Home-selling prices in the wider London market averaged a little more than $650,000 last month, a little more than half the average price in Toronto. Homeowners cashing out in Toronto and buying in London, where they can get a bigger bang for their housing buck, have been a factor in the market for years now.

An added attraction, Moffatt noted, is that London — two hours away — is still close enough for newcomers from the Greater Toronto Area to visit their families there and, for some, even to work in the nation’s largest urban area.

London has been on a growth tear for nearly a decade now, with the city portion of its wider population jumping by 10 per cent between the 2016 and 2021 census cycles, to 422,324 — a run-up that made it Ontario’s fastest-growing city during that period and one of the most rapidly growing in Canada.

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Kerr and Moffatt agree that the astronomical growth is likely to slow with promised caps from the federal government on non-permanent residents, including temporary workers and international students.

“So as they (do) that, we can see our population growth rates potentially turn into something resembling normal,” Kerr said. Canada brought in 1.2 million people in 2023 alone, when typical years previously were 300,000 to 400,000, he added.

Rent prices in particular have already begun to stabilize in recent months, a possible indicator that growth in the city and region is “softening,” Moffatt said.

The London-region may still stand to be one of the faster growing regions in the province even without the boost from immigration, he points out.

Not only will sky-high Toronto prices continue to drive residents into neighbouring cities like London, he said, but “a resurgence of manufacturing” will be a significant regional driver of growth.

“That hasn’t quite happened yet, but we know with the new battery plant opening up in St. Thomas, I think that’s going to be a local draw as well,” Moffatt said. “The resurgence of manufacturing is going to bring people across Southwestern Ontario.”

Much of the recent growth caught policymakers off guard, leading to today’s growing pains, he explains. As such, the city will have to re-evaluate how it grows going forward, such as looking at lands open for development to avoid a “hollowing-out” of housing to neighbouring boroughs such as Dorchester or Arva, Moffatt said.

jmoulton@postmedia.com

@jackmoulton65


WIDER LONDON-AREA POPULATION ESTIMATES

2019: 548,743

2020: 559,067

2021: 567,539

2022: 586,059

2023: 608,343

Source: Statistics Canada

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